A fly line is another crucial component of any fly fishing outfit. The wrong type of fly line can lead to poor fishing and very unpleasant casting. Any fly line you use should match up in weight perfectly with both the fly reel and the fly rod. Why is the fly line so important? In fly fishing, you must remember that it is the weight of the fly line – not the fly itself – that actually casts the fly that you present to those hungry trout. If you use too heavy of a fly line for the fly rod that you have, what happens is that you end up “overloading” the fly rod (the fly rod bends excessively). This presents severe casting challenges, to say the least. The overloading of the fly rod will also cause your fly to make quite the entry when it hits the water also, spooking anything in the vicinity. Conversely, if you use too light of a fly line for the fly rod, the result is the opposite. Because the fly line is “lighter” than the fly rod, the fly rod does not bend enough to properly load. In this case you won’t be able to cast the fly out as far as you want and you’ll have very poor casting control. Remember this Formula!Fly Line Weight = Fly Reel Weight = Fly Rod Weight. So, let’s get started examining fly lines. The first thing to keep in mind about fly lines is the weight.
Fly Line Weight
All fly lines use standards set by the fly line manufacturers. The standard measurements will range from 1-14 and is clearly printed on the box of any fly line that you buy. This measurement corresponds to the weight of the fly line in grains (14 grains to a gram). The lower the number, the lighter the fly line is. When measuring line weight, only the first thirty feet of line is measured. It also does not include any tapers. So if you are measuring a double taper line, the measurement begins after the taper and on the first thirty feet of level line. Ok, so which one do we want? Well, once again it all depends on what you’ll be fishing for. A summary of recommended line weights for various fly fishing by species is listed below:
- Fly Line Weight 1-3: Small trout and any other small fish. Small flies and short casts.
- Fly Line Weight 4: Small to medium sized trout and other similarly sized fish. Small flies and medium sized flies. Short to medium-short casts.
- Fly Line Weight 5-6: The most versatile of the line weights. Fishes well for all but the smallest and all but the largest trout. Fishes well when using small, medium and larger sized flies (except the larger streamers). Allows for longer casts yet performs short casts well.
- Fly Line Weight 7-8: Designed for very large trout and other similarly sized fish. Used for pitching large streamers and large flies. Longer casts are excellent. Not the best for short casts.
- Fly Line Weight 9 and above: Monster fish territory. Mainly used ocean or lake fishing and fishing for Salmon and Steelhead.
Fly Line Taper Explained
The next thing to consider in understanding fly lines is its taper. The tapers in a fly line allow for casting and presentation. The taper is simply an adjustment to the fly line making it easier to cast in different conditions. Most lines are not a level taper line. This means the fly line will have fine adjustments (such as weight or diameter changes) at varying points of the fly line. There are four primary types of fly line tapers, the two most important and heavily used being the weight forward taper and the double taper.
Weight Forward Taper (WF)
The first and most popular taper is the Weight Forward Taper (WF). A fly line that has a weight forward taper has a slight extra weight and width built into the first 10 yards of the line, although some specialized lines extend or shorten this taper. Regardless, this extra weight on the front of the fly line allows for longer casts and better casts in windy conditions. It also is very versatile and fishes well in other conditions. The extra weight also helps turn over larger flies such as streamers. Because extra weight and width are on one end of the fly line, it is crucial that the line be put on correctly. A weight forward taper fly line cannot be reversed in the event the end of the line becomes cracked or damaged.
Double Taper (DT)
The second primary type of fly line taper is the double taper (DT), which is very popular and used extensively. On this type of fly line, the first fifteen feet of the fly line gradually widen in diameter. The next sixty feet of the fly line remains a constant weight and width. Then in the last fifteen feet of the fly line (which rarely leaves the reel except for when big fish is caught) the line gradually loses weight and width at exactly the same rate as was gained on the front of the fly line. One benefit of this type of taper is that it can be reversed as both ends of the fly line are equal.
Level Taper (L)
The next type of fly line taper is the Level Taper (L). The Level Taper is perhaps the easiest of the fly line tapers to understand simply because it has no taper! A level taper fly line has the exact same width and weight throughout its length. Level taper fly lines float extremely well due to their even weight and width but are much more difficult to cast and control than other fly line tapers. Since the weight of the fly line is even throughout, the fly line has a tendency to make kind of a racket when it hits the water. Beginner anglers should stay away from level taper fly lines as they are more difficult to cast than other tapers.
Shooting Taper (ST)
The last type of the 4 primary fly line tapers is the Shooting Taper (ST. ) This is a specialized fly line that was originally designed for tournament fly casting. This line is definitely not to be used by beginning fly fishermen. It is heavily weighted on the first twenty feet of fly line. Then it follows a uniform weight and thickness through the remainder of the line. This remaining section is much thinner than a weight-forward fly line. This added weight in the front along with a thinner remainder of line, allows an experienced angler to cast for greater distances. A major drawback is that the added weight in the front of the line causes it to make the fly hit the water harder and can cause a bit of a commotion to weary trout.
Fly Line Density
Yet another element of a fly line is its density – which basically means whether it floats, sinks or only partially floats. For most angling conditions, a floating fly line is what is used and is by far the most popular. While the fly line itself will float, using nymphs or attaching weights will pull down the leader, allowing adequate sub-surface fly fishing in most conditions. If you can only own one fly line, make sure it is a floating line. A sinking fly line is used mainly in big, slow moving rivers or in lakes. As the entire line sinks, it can take a fly down to very deep depths quite quickly (depending on its sink rating). Since the fly line sinks, a sinking line is difficult to pick up and can be a bear to cast, especially on a long day. There are several flavors of sinking lines available. The intermediate sinking fly line sinks slowly and at a uniform rate and is a great choice for fishing on lakes that have lots of weeds. A full sinking fly line will completely sink at a uniform rate. How fast the line sinks will vary depending on the actual lines sink rate, which is usually between 2-10 inches per second. Last is the fast-sinking fly line which sinks like a stone. This type of fly line is really only needed for saltwater fly fishing or when fly fishing deep lakes. Finally, sink tip fly lines are a combination of both of the above. On a sink tip line, the first 10-30 feet of the fly line sinks while the remainder of the line floats. This greatly assists in line pickup and casting, while still allowing the line to pull down flies to deep depths quickly.
Fly Line Color
There are a myriad of fly line colors available these days and everyone has an opinion on what the best color is. You’ll find such line colors as olive, bright yellow, fluorescent green, pumpkin orange among others. So, which is the best? Sinking lines – when fishing sub-surface flies like a nymph or streamer, I generally find it better to go with a darker color that blends in more with the environment. Maybe try a dark olive or even a brown color here. Floating a bright orange line through a pool could tend to spook a wary trout faster than a more subtle color. Floating lines – Here I tend to go with a lighter color that is easy for me to see. This way I’m not straining my eyes so much to see line movements in the water. Fish looking up to the surface are going to see the line no matter what the color as the line will cast a shadow over the trout as the line passes between the trout and the sun.
Deciphering Fly Line Codes
Anyone new to the sport of fly fishing who has actually looked at the fly line box probably was a bit perplexed by the strange codes used. To alleviate this problem, here are some sample fly lines and their related codes that you see on the box.
- WF-4-F : Weight-forward taper, weight of 4, and floats.
- WF-8-S : Weight-forward taper, weight of 8, with a sinking line.
- DT-5-F : Double taper, weight of 5, and floats.
- DT-5-F/S : Double taper, weight of 5, with a sink-tip fly line.
- L-4-I : Level taper (meaning no real taper at all), weight of 4, with an intermediate sinking line.
- ST-7-F : Shooting taper, weight of 7, and floats.
Just remember, on fly line boxes, the taper of the fly line is the first code (DT, WF, L, ST), the weight of the fly line is the second code (1-14), and the density of the fly line (S, F, F/S) is the third code. How fast the line sinks will also be listed on the box.
Fly Line Summary
I’m glad to see you’ve hung in there this long. Here’s a summary of what we’ve learned…
- Fly Line Taper – This is simply adjustments in the diameter of the line which are used in varying situations. The weight-forward taper is the most popular taper and is also the best choice for fly fishing beginners.
- Fly Line Weight – As a rule, the fly line weight should equal the fly rod weight. Failure to do this will only lead to poor casting and much frustration.
- Fly Line Density – This refers to whether the line will float or sink . The first choice for beginners should be a floating fly line. This is simply because it is the easiest to cast. Sinking fly lines definitely have their place though. As you develop your skills, you’ll find yourself switch to and from a sinking line depending on whether you’re fishing on top of the surface with dry flies or below the surface with nymphs, streamers, etc.
Fly Line Backing
Backing is made of a very strong, supple braided material. The backing connects the fly line to the reel, and it keeps you connected to a hooked fish that swims beyond the length of the fly line. Fly line backing serves two purposes. To fill the spool so it doesn’t take terribly long to wind in a fly line and to allow a fish to run and strip more line from the reel than the fly line itself. Backing becomes more of a factor with the increase in size of the fish being sought. For fishing trout in small streams little if any backing is necessary, in any event no more than 50 yards of backing is needed. For larger trout, a reel should be able to hold 100 yards of backing and the fly line. For salmon and steelhead, the reel should hold at least 200 yards of backing.
Leaders and Tippets
Completing the outfit is the leader which is the connection between the fly and the fly line. Leaders for most fly fishing applications are virtually weightless, transparent, and tapered from a thick “butt” section to a thin point, or “tippet.” All leaders have three parts which diminish in width as we get closer to the fly. The first part is called the “butt”. It is the strongest, most resistant section of the leader and it is tied to the line. Next is the section called the “taper”, which in turn leads to the “tippet”, the finest and weakest end where an artificial fly is tied. The thick butt connects to the end of the fly line. The leader receives energy from the line during the cast to propel the fly toward its target. The fly is tied to the tippet, which is very thin so that fish do not notice it. A wary fish is as suspicious of flies attached to heavy line as you would be about a sandwich attached to a rope. When you are certain that you are fishing the correct fly, but fish refuse to strike it, your tippet may be too thick. When you change flies, you cut off some of the tippet end, shortening the leader. However, several fishing line makers produce spools of replacement tippet material so you can restore the leader to its original length-or lengthen it. With new tippets, a single leader may last for an entire fishing season. Leaders come in three basic models: “braided,” “compound or knotted” and “knotless.”
- Braided leaders are more popular in Europe than in America, where they fall in and out of fashion. The thick butt section is made of braided line that, some anglers believe, is easier to cast than a solid strand.
- Compound leaders (sometimes referred to as knotted leaders) use several strands of translucent fishing line of different thickness, tied together to make the whole leader taper from the thick butt end to the thin tippet. Advocates of compound leaders believe that the leader’s construction makes floating artificial flies behave more like natural insects on the water. The sections of thin line leading to the tippet help prevent “drag”-which occurs when water currents make an artificial fly act unnaturally.
- Knotless leaders are a single strand of material, drawn through a machine that makes it thick at the butt end and thin at the tippet end. You can make the thin end even thinner by tying on a length of finer tippet line. Knotless leaders are especially convenient when fishing weedy water because there are no knots to hang up in the weeds.
When you are fishing streamer flies beneath the water’s surface, you can use a leader shorter than six feet. For fishing flies on the water’s surface or just beneath it, you will need leaders of standard length, from seven and one-half to twelve feet long. Shorter leaders are easier to cast, but wary fish and crystalline water usually require smaller flies, longer leaders, and finer tippets. It is generally best to start with a 9’ leader and add on whatever amount of tippet you feel comfortable with. Tippet manufacturers describe tippet thickness in X-numbers, from OX to 8X. The higher the X-number, the thinner the tippet and the smaller the fly it will cast. For example, tippets measuring 6X, 7X and 8X are used on the most minuscule flies. Tippets measuring 2X, 1X and OX are used for large steelhead and salmon flies. A simple way to select an appropriate tippet for a particular fly is to take the size of the fly and divide it by three. For example, on a medium-sized #12 fly, a 4X tippet would be ideal. Dividing a tiny #22 fly by three, the closest tippet size is 7X.